Courtesy QPMABernadette Hamel (left) receives the Quebec Produce Marketing Association's Pillar of the Industry Award from outgoing association president Marie Gosselin.CHARLEVOIX, QUEBEC — The Quebec Produce Marketing Association’s 2014 Pillar of the Industry fell in love with the produce industry at the age of 14, selling produce from a fruit stand.
Bernadette Hamel, vice president of national produce procurement for Laval-based Metro Inc., received the award Aug. 23 at QPMA’s annual conference in Charlevoix, Quebec, where she became president in 2008.
She’s also the chairwoman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, and in 2012 was named The Packer’s Produce Person of the Year.
In a speech to nearly 500 QPMA conference attendees from the U.S. and Canada, Hamel recalled her first job at a store in Repentigny, Quebec, a former garage, which she co-owned at the age of 20.
Banana bunches hung from nails on the wall and staff trimmed their own iceberg lettuce and spent hours repacking 50-pound bags of potatoes into 10-pound bags, which she would lug to customers’ waiting trucks.
She also recalled buying her first box of kiwifruit.
“One client bought six at once and I thought he must be very rich to afford to buy so many at $1 each,” said Hamel, the youngest of eight children. “Today we sell them by the truckload.”
In 1983, a few weeks after attending a CPMA industry brunch, she received a call from Metro’s Jacques Obry asking if she was interested in becoming a buyer at Canada’s third largest supermarket chain.
She was the first to put raspberries on the front page of a Metro flyer, “and I still bear the scars because it was difficult to find enough volume.”
After a two-year stint away from the industry, she returned to Metro in 1998 as category manager and director for new products and private label. She had various roles in purchasing and marketing and in 2008 was appointed vice president purchasing and marketing.
She’s now responsible for central negotiations for Ontario and Quebec.
Hamel thanked mentors Obry, Robert Sawyer, Christian Bourbonnière, Claude Jauvin and Serge Boulanger, who taught her that “no” is the beginning of a negotiation to arrive at a “yes” and a good deal for all parties.
She credited her human touch for helping her succeed, but also thanked her dedicated and hard-working staff.
“When you love and are passionate in what you do,” she said, “it’s not really work, you nourish your soul.”